European Flair Prevails at Kreg's Kitchens

Combining frameless construction with European-influenced designs, this New Jersey shop creates high-end cabinetry with a unique, stylish look.

By Helen Kuhl

When Richard and Linda Kregloski of Kreg's Kitchens, Verona, NJ, talk about building European-style cabinetry, the term encompasses more than frameless construction. The design and kitchen layout also carry a European influence, thanks to Linda's previous background working for a German high-end cabinet manufacturer, Allmilmo, and Richard's experience as an Allmilmo dealer. Linda said that a lot of the flair in their kitchens is because of its European styling, an outgrowth of their Allmilmo connection.

With a degree in interior design from Virginia Tech, Linda joined Allmilmo when it entered the American market about 20 years ago, headquartered in Fairfield, NJ, 15 minutes away from Richard's shop. After "starting out at the bottom," she eventually became their chief designer, with responsibility for designing kitchens used in showrooms, advertising, trade shows and other special projects. "That was my first job, so I learned how to work in metric in a European type of design from the start," Linda said. "Whenever I plan a kitchen, I automatically think in metric."

About the same time, Richard became one of Allmilmo's first U.S. dealers. He had started Kreg's Kitchens in 1965 as a combination custom cabinet shop and dealership for Quaker Maid cabinets. After a number of years, changes in Quaker Maid caused Richard to drop the line. He added Allmilmo, "getting hooked" on European frameless construction methods in the process. "The Europeans are very clever in the way they set up their system," he said. "If more people would get involved in metric, I think they would really enjoy it."

Kreg's Kitchens became one of Allmilmo's most successful dealers, and when Linda decided to leave Allmilmo and enter the retail end of the kitchen designing field, she joined Kreg's. She took over designing duties from Richard and eventually became Mrs. Kregloski as well.

Although Kreg's Kit-chens was very successful carrying Allmilmo, the somewhat limited scope of the line caused the Kregloskis to expand their custom kitchen business as well.

"As high-end as Allmilmo was, it was very methodical and there were no specials," Linda said. "We were doing very high-end kitchens for very high price ranges, but always telling customers that they couldn't get this or that, like custom hoods or custom end round panels. Richard started to get some big pieces of equipment into the shop so we could customize the line and build frameless cabinets ourselves. We were doing something custom on almost every job and we started customizing so much that we decided, 'Let's do the whole kitchen.'"

The need to customize was especially apparent in the 1980s when a white raised panel door style became extremely popular, and Allmilmo did not offer it, Linda added.

"They had a raised panel door, but you couldn't get it in white, and they had a white cabinet, but you couldn't get it in a raised panel. There were too many jobs that we were losing because we did not have a raised panel door painted white," she said. "So we thought that since we had the equipment, we would make the boxes and buy the doors and paint them. And that was when our custom work really took off."

The shop began offering custom kitchens exclusively about five years ago, after the Kregloskis sensed changes in Allmilmo and dropped the line. (Allmilmo ultimately ceased its business in the United States last year.) It was a challenge to change the showroom to replace Allmilmo kitchens with a variety of custom designs, the Kregloskis said. They started by building a display of white raised panel cabinets and remodeled one kitchen display at a time.

However, after doing only custom kitchens for three years, the Kregloskis said they still felt there were gaps in their product offerings, plus they were feeling overwhelmed with the tremendous workload involved in producing all their own cabinetry. So two years ago, they began supplementing their custom kitchens by becoming a dealer for Heritage cabinets, a high-end custom line.

"With the size of our shop, two custom kitchens back-to-back was about all we could handle. But you really need more than that to keep the place running," Linda said. "This is not just a 'knock-it-out' kind of shop, we do really high-end work. There is a high level of perfection that the customer is looking for, and we would get really tied up in the details. Richard would be coming in every weekend to attend to details, and finally we said, 'That's it. We need to find a cabinet line to supplement what we are doing.'"

Another deciding factor in adding a cabinet line was to accommodate customers asking for framed cabinets. With the shop's concentration on producing only frameless cabinetry, Richard was not interested in building face-frame cabinets himself, but realized that they had to be able to offer them to customers.

"Especially with the impact of the Smallbone look on the market, there was a demand for a framed cabinet and we weren't making it," Linda said. "We realized that the marketplace is shrinking and there can't be a product that we don't have. We had to have an avenue to have a framed cabinet. That was another important factor in our adding Heritage."

Their current showroom, which is nearing the end of its remodeling phase, includes two face-frame Heritage kitchens and four frameless custom kitchens. In addition to the white painted cabinetry, other custom kitchens include a white woodgrain-embossed melamine kitchen, featuring panels from Domtar, and a Country French kitchen featuring oak cabinets with a lime finish.

The fourth custom kitchen, which is nearing completion, is designed to be eye-catching and dramatic. It features contemporary style ash cabinets with a pearlized finish and incorporates elaborate mouldings and trim, fluted columns and large corbels.

"We have a contradiction of things that we're playing with in that display," Richard said. "We have the contemporary cabinets mixed with the ornately carved materials. But the blend of these two styles kind of works. A lot of people will not choose it, but it's going to be very dramatic."

"We think people will see it and go, 'wow,'" Linda added.

The showroom also includes granite and Corian countertops (Kreg's is an authorized Corian fabricator), as well as new, top-of-the-line appliances.

"We keep up with the newest popular appliances and we sell them, as well," Linda said. "Customers have the option to break that out of the contract and buy appliances themselves. But if they want us to, we will supply them."

Kreg's also will handles the subcontracting of electrical, plumbing and/or flooring work, and for almost every job Linda helps the customer choose tile and provides other interior design advice.

A typical Kreg's Kitchens job ranges from $40,000 to $50,000, Richard said, with cabinets accounting for $25,000 to $30,000 of the total. Current annual sales are between $450,000 and $500,000, about half from custom kitchens and half Heritage, he added.

Kreg's Kitchens has been at its current location since 1980, when Richard built the facility. The two-story building sits on a hill, so the upper story, which houses the 1,500-square-foot showroom and office area (plus a second retail space leased to a printing company next door), is at street level. The lower story, which houses the 2,600-square-foot production area, faces the back of the lot and is at ground level, too.

Richard said that he has always done woodworking, starting as a teenager in his parents' basement and garage. After graduating high school, he received requests from local area people to build odd cabinets and projects. The jobs kept expanding, "and before I knew it, I was in business," he said. "It wasn't planned. I should have gone to college!"

When he decided to formalize his business in 1965, he took on the Quaker Maid line, but always maintained his custom shop, adding machinery along the way.

For the frameless cabinets, he uses a dowel construction, with 5/8-inch sides and a 3/4-inch back. If a cabinet side is exposed, a raised panel is added for a nicer look.

The shop uses European hinges from Grass America and Julius Blum Inc. and the Blum Metabox aluminum drawer system. It also uses various specialty hardware items from Hafele, including Kessebohmer chrome interior fittings.

Most cabinet doors are purchased from Conestoga, although the shop will do some of its own "way-out" designs as needed.

Linda handles most showroom design and sales duties. Richard stays in the shop with the company's three production employees. Shop equipment includes an Altendorf F-45 sliding table saw and a Brandt D-1000 edgebander, both from Altendorf America, an Ayen Expert P boring machine from Force Machinery, a Marunaka edgebander, a Homag case clamp from Stiles Machinery, and a Sandingmaster 2000 widebelt sander.

In addition, there is a Rockwell tilting arbor saw for odds and ends and dadoing, a Delta shaper and a Belfab dust collector from Rudolf Bass Inc.

Kreg's Kitchens does its own finishing, although Richard said he tries to use Heritage cabinetry if a customer wants a complicated specialty finish. "We try to keep away from the glazes and antique finishes," he said. "That's where a company like Heritage does so well, because they are equipped to do all of that."

For his own finishes, he uses nitrocellulose lacquers, conversion varnish "and the like" from M.L. Campbell and Guardsman. He has a 10-foot by 8-foot spray booth from Binks and uses standard spray guns from DeVilbiss.

With the kitchen design and manufacturing processes down pat, the hardest part of the business is selling, the Kregloskis said.

"Coming up with the right design at the right price is hard. People are very price conscious today," Richard said. "It's very difficult."

"We are at the high end of the market, which is a very small percentage of clients and the competition in our area is quite large. There are a lot of us going after a very small market," Linda added. "Customers are checking everything out. They ask for references, they want to see jobs that you have done and they want to see your portfolio. We have even had customers want to come watch our shop run. You are selling yourself and the fact that you can do their job. That's the hardest part -- it's so competitive."

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